Alexander Vraciu was born in East Chicago, Indiana, on 2 November 1918. He attended Washington High School in that city and received a scholarship to DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana. While attending the University he played halfback on the football team for two years and ran the quarter-mile on the track squad. He graduated from DePauw University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. Before enlisting in the US Naval Reserve in June 1941, he had obtained in a primary pilot’s license from the Civil Aeronautics Administration.
In January 1942 he reported to the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, as an Aviation Cadet, US Naval Reserve; was commissioned Ensign, 28 August 1942, and subsequently advanced in rank attaining that of Commander to date from 1 August 1955. On 20 November 1953 he was transferred to the US Navy.
On completion of his cadet flight training in August 1942, he had further instruction at the Advanced Carrier Training Group, Pacific Fleet, at the Naval Air Station, Melbourne, Florida, and at the Carrier Qualification Training Unit, San Diego, California, and was assigned duty with Fighting Squadron THREE (later re-designated Fighting Squadron SIX). For five months he flew as wingman for the late Lieutenant Commander Edward H. (Butch) O’Hare, USN, Commanding Officer of Fighting Squadron THREE. It was while he was attached to this squadron that he shot down his first plane over Wake Island on 5 October 1943, and on one occasion helped his skipper sink a tanker. For his services in that assignment he was awarded the Air Medal and a Gold Star in lieu of the Second Air Medal. The citations follow in part:
Air Medal: “For meritorious achievement…as Pilot of a Fighter Plane in offensive action against enemy Japanese forces at Wake Island on October 5, 1943. Determined and courageous in the face of concentrated enemy fire…(he) boldly pressed home his relentless strafing runs against Japanese land based installations on the heavily fortified island and, fighting during the bitter engagement…Lieutenant Commander Vraciu contributed essentially to the success of our air operations in this vital theater of war…”
Gold Star in lieu of the Second Air Medal: “For meritorious achievement…in action against Japanese forces on Marcus Island, August 31, 1943. Returning from a successful attack against this island…(he) sighted a damaged enemy tanker and, accompanied by two other members of the squadron, pressed home three strafing attacks to sink the hostile ship..”
For further services with Fighting Squadron SIX he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Gold Star in lieu of the Second Distinguished Flying Cross, and a Gold Star in lieu of the Third Air Medal for action as set forth in the following citation:
Distinguished Flying Cross: “For extraordinary heroism in aerial action against the Japanese while piloting an airplane…during the first attack by United States Naval Forces on Truk Atoll February 16, 1944. With utter disregard for his own safety, he on one flight boldly attacked, and unassisted shot down four enemy fighter aircraft…”
Gold Star in lieu of the Second Distinguished Flying Cross: “For heroism and extraordinary achievement…as Pilot and Section Leader in Fighting Squadron SIX, during action against enemy Japanese forces at Roi Island, Kwajalein Atoll, on January 29, 1944…(he) blasted three hostile bombers from the sky and, in the face of intense antiaircraft fire during the occupation phase of operations, pressed home repeated attacks against the enemy…”
Gold Star in lieu of Third Air Medal: “For meritorious achievement…during action against enemy Japanese forces on Rabaul, November 11, 1943, and later during the occupation of the Gilbert Islands…(He) pressed home vigorous attacks in the face of intense antiaircraft fire and aerial opposition, shooting down one enemy bomber on November 20 and contributing materially to the success of these missions…”
In February 1944 he transferred to Fighting Squadron SIXTEEN. Fighter pilots of that much decorated group, shot down one hundred thirty-five Japanese aircraft, during the air battle for Saipan, which always will be known as the “Mariana Turkey Shoot.” Spread over the sea near Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Tarawa, Wake, Mille, Kwajalein, Palau, Woleai, Hollandia and Truk were the burned remains of Japanese ships, planes and ground installations which felt the wrath of Air Group SIXTEEN.
Led by Commander Vraciu, who had shot down nineteen enemy planes while flying from Navy carriers, the fighter squadron of the group, nick-named the “Airedales”, destroyed one hundred thirty five enemy aircraft in combat. His individual score was at that time a record for American Carrier-based fighters. During the “Turkey Shoot” alone, he destroyed six enemy planes within a few moments, and the fighter squadron shot down forty-one aircraft while losing no pilots. For his services in that assignment he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of the Third Distinguished Flying Cross and a Navy Cross. The citations follow:
“For heroism and extraordinary achievement…as Pilot of a Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron SIXTEEN attached to the USS LEXINGTON, during operations against the enemy Japanese forces on the Island of Truk, April 29, 1944. Courageously participating as a member of a Fighter Group escorting torpedo bombers back to base from a hazardous bombing strike, (he) immediately engaged with vigorous fire a numerically superior force of intercepting hostile planes. Although outnumbered, he boldly pressed home his attack and, in the terrific battle that ensued, sent two hostile craft down in flames and contributed to the complete rout of the remaining Japanese fighters. Lieutenant Commander Vraciu’s superb airmanship, cool courage in the face of overwhelming opposition, and resolute devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Navy Cross: “For extraordinary heroism…during operations against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of the Marianas Islands, on June 12, 14, 19, and 20, 1944. Participating in a daring strike against enemy shipping in the harbor, (he) dived through antiaircraft fire to sink a large enemy merchant ship by a direct hit on its stern. With his Task Force subsequently under attack by a numerically superior force of enemy aircraft, struck furiously at the hostile bombers and, despite vigorous fighter opposition, succeeded in shooting down six and contributing to the breaking up of a concentrated enemy attack. Flying escort for bomber and torpedo planes on a long-range strike against the Japanese fleet, he fearlessly closed with a group of hostile fighters, blasting one from the sky and severely damaging another to enable our forces to sink a Japanese carrier…”
On his return to the United States in the fall of 1944, he had brief duty at the Naval Air Operational Training Center, Jacksonville, Florida, awaiting orders, and in October of that year was assigned to Fleet Air, West Coast, with headquarters in San Diego, California. Later that month he reported to Air Force, Pacific Fleet, and after refresher duty with Carrier Air Group ONE HUNDRED, he served with Fighting Squadron NINETEEN then being relieved by Fighting Squadron TWENTY. He was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of the Fourth Air Medal with the following citation:
“For meritorious achievement…as Pilot of a Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron TWENTY, attached to the USS LEXINGTON during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Clark Field Area of Luzon, Philippine Islands, on December 14, 1944. Undaunted by the enemy’s concentrated antiaircraft fire, Lieutenant Vraciu repeatedly led his team in over the target area to deliver accurate, determined strafing, rocket and bombing attacks against grounded hostile planes, personally destroying three parked aircraft and inflicting extensive damage on the airfield. His outstanding leadership, superior flying ability and daring tactics maintained in the face of tremendous odds contributed materially to the success of our aerial operations in this vital war area…”
He was also entitled to the Ribbon with stars for the Presidential Unit Citations to USS Lexington and USS Essex and the Ribbon for the Navy Unit Commendation awarded USS Enterprise.
After duty at the Naval Air Station, Alameda, California, in February 1945, he reported in April of that year as a Test Pilot, Tactical Test, at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland. Detached from that assignment in September 1945, he was transferred to duty in the Air Reserve Program Section, Aviation Plans Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air), Navy Department, Washington, DC. He remained there until October 1951, after which he was assigned as Jet Flight Training Officer at the Naval Air Station, Los Alamitos, Long Beach, California, between March and September 1954, then had further instruction at the Fleet Training Center, San Diego, California.
In December 1954 he joined USS Hornet as Communications Officer and in February 1956 was detached to command Fighter Squadron FIFTY-ONE. Assigned in January 1958 to the Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Kingsville, Texas, he remained there until January 1960, when he joined the Staff of Commander Carrier Division THREE. Ordered detached in October 1962 he served at the Naval Air Station, Alameda, California, until relieved of active duty pending his retirement, effective 1 January 1964.
In addition to the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Gold Stars, the Air Medal with three Gold Stars, the Presidential Unit Citation with two stars; and the Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, Commander Vraciu had the Naval Reserve Medal; the American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal; and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two stars.